Hawks still rule roost in West
DAVE BOLING; THE NEWS TRIBUNE
RENTON – They aren’t just making this up; NFL coaches really do operate with a week-to-week mind-set.
So Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has enough on his mind getting his team ready for Sunday’s season opener at Buffalo without worrying about big-picture questions.
Still, heading into the first game, it wasn’t unreasonable that he would be asked to assess the prospects of his division, the NFC West.
Holmgren had to collect his thoughts for a moment before answering. And, actually, he didn’t have many thoughts to collect.
“I’ll be honest, I have not studied them all that much,” he said at his Wednesday press conference in the comfortable surroundings of the team’s new meeting room. “I have probably thought about it the way you have read about what’s happened.”
He reeled off a few of the headlines the typical fan might have skimmed. Kurt Warner will start at quarterback in Arizona rather than Matt Leinart.
San Francisco is “going with a young guy I don’t know a lot about,” he said. That would be J.T. O’Sullivan, and nobody knows much about him because he is with his eighth team in six years and has never started an NFL game.
St. Louis, Holmgren said, is improving and “they’ve got a great running back.”
That is Steven Jackson, who disappointed Holmgren by ending his contract holdout and returning to camp.
Holmgren summed it up by expressing his belief that all the teams had improved.
He has to say that, but I’m not convinced.
In fact, the Hawks won the division by two games last year and should have at least that much of a cushion this season.
Because they now can run the ball, because they have backs who can catch and block, because Matt Hasselbeck is easily the best quarterback in the division, and because the defense returns intact, the Seahawks look like an 11-5 team. I don’t see anybody else in the division above 8-8.
A couple of the wild cards in this short deck, though, are the changes in offensive coordinators in St. Louis (Al Saunders) and San Francisco (Mike Martz).
How much difference, though, can Mike Martz and J.T. O’Sullivan make to a 49ers’ team that was last in the NFL in total offense last season?
Saunders will deal with a rebuilt offensive line and a tender-ribbed quarterback in Marc Bulger. Jackson should be happy with his new contract, and the Rams should be able to count on former Seahawks kicker Josh Brown to be clutch if they can keep games close. But this was a 3-13 team in 2007.
It’s been trendy to pick the Cardinals as the team most likely to rise and challenge the Seahawks. They’ve beaten the Hawks the last two times they met in Arizona.
Even if Warner is at the top of his game, and stars like Edgerrin James, Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald remain healthy and productive, the Cardinals will have a hard time doing better than splitting with the Hawks.
Holmgren tried to stand up for his NFC West lodge brothers, saying he didn’t think it was fair that the division is so commonly considered a walkover.
And the point he made to his team in a Wednesday morning meeting is valid: If you don’t show up, any of them can beat you. They’ve lost at least one game each of the last two seasons to Arizona and San Francisco when the team’s effort came in far below Holmgren’s level of expectations.
“If you’re not ready to play every week, emotionally, you’re gonna get beat regardless who you’re playing,” he told the team.
Apparently trying to make sure that wasn’t interpreted as a dismissal of the division opponents, Holmgren stressed the value of those games.
“We’ve put the same importance on our division opponents as we always have,” he said. “In talking about your season, that’s one of the starting points, dealing with your division. That gives you a shot at the playoffs. This season is no different.”
Precisely. This season should be no different. The Seahawks are still the class of the division, and it would represent a major stumble if they failed to win their fifth straight title.
Dave Boling: 253-597-8440